Friday, February 20, 2009
Annatto / Achiote Seeds
Have you ever heard of annatto seeds from the achiote plant? If not, I would love to make an introduction. These seeds are one of nature's most vivid forms of food coloring and are commonly used to color cheddar cheeses, butters, and margarines. Therefore, if you have ever eaten cheese, butter, or margarine, you should not be afraid of cooking with these seeds.
I know you are thinking, "What in the hay-hole are these seeds, and how do they taste?" The seeds themselves are mild in flavor. If you pop a crunchy one in your mouth, it will taste similar to a bland peppercorn, leeched of any spiciness, with an almost indiscernable aftertaste of saffron or clay. (How do I know what clay tastes like? Okay, I did try clay when I was a kid, but I thought it was chocolate pudding!) However, these seeds are not used for flavor, but more for the stunning rust-colored hue. Grown and harvested in South and Central America, you simply heat these seeds in oil to release the dark and potent jasper coloring. These seeds lend their vibrantly rich, Sedona red color to the Vietnamese soups of bun bo hue and bun rieu. Latin American cuisines also often employ achiote paste (a flavorful paste made of a panapoly of spices and annatto coloring) in their cuisine to deepen the color of mole sauces and even enrich the visual colors in tamales.
Check out your local Asian or Latin American market for packs of these seeds, and start experimenting!